Lewis Grabban has garnished all sorts of headlines for himself after his apparent refusal to be amongst the players on the bench for the League Cup tie at Rotherham.
There must be quite a few clubs out there glad that some of their players didn’t storm off in much the same manner after they too were named amongst the substitutes for their respective teams this week.
Joe Cole didn’t perform a flounce at Villa Park after being told he would be one of the subs for Aston Villa’s game against Notts County, whilst Jason Puncheon took the same decision on the chin at Selhurst Park after being left out of Crystal Palace’s starting line-up against Shrewsbury.
The same stoical approach applied to ex-Canary Andrew Surman for Bournemouth up at Hartlepool. Clearly making a near 700-mile round trip on a Tuesday evening with his only active participation being to high-five the three starters who joined him on the bench as they were, one by one, replaced by players other than him was not a problem.
And then there was Ross Barkley and Gerard Deulofeu at Everton; both high-profile players at Everton with the former regarded as one of the brightest young prospects in English football. Yet both were stuck on the bench at Barnsley whilst, in some people’s eyes, lesser players got an opportunity to impress ahead of them.
Yet all saw fit to start and finish the night’s proceedings with their clubs and team mates rather than run away in the manner of a child denied a third helping of trifle at a friend’s birthday party.
The full story of Grabban’s abrupt departure from the New York Stadium will never be known unless of course he chooses to tell it himself. And you do get the feeling that if he does get the move back down to the south coast, as he seems so set upon doing, there might, just might, be a “Grabban: My Side Of The Story” (possibly in the Daily Mail) that will attempt to defend his actions whilst criticising those of others.
But let’s hope not.
As far as his actions and behaviour on Tuesday are concerned, he most certainly isn’t the first Norwich player to express his displeasure at the club in such a dramatic and prominent way.
For example, once Manchester United had made known their interest in Steve Bruce back in the early winter of 1987, his head was turned to such an extent that he threatened to go on strike if the club didn’t go through with the transfer.
Bruce’s understanding had been that, after staying at Norwich following relegation in 1985, the clubs would, once both they had re-established themselves as top flight performers, permit him to move on to a bigger club. And that, if any serious interest was shown in him, they would be honour bound to make him aware of that interest and have the courtesy to allow him to speak to the interested party.
Norwich had a disappointing start to the 1987/88 season, winning only two of their opening ten league fixtures, a sequence that included losing 3-0 to Oxford United at the Manor Ground – it was a result that saw the Canaries slip down to 20th place in the table, just one off the bottom.
Bruce impressed during a 2-1 defeat at Old Trafford a fortnight later but, by now, good performances meant nothing – results were what were needed and Norwich weren’t getting them. Another disappointing defeat followed, 2-0 at Charlton this time with Bruce’s uncharacteristic error being the catalyst for Charlton’s opening goal.
Two days after that game, Ken Brown, the man who had signed Bruce and someone who he had considered as a mentor was sacked and with that any last vestiges of loyalty that Bruce might have felt he owed Norwich City disappeared overnight.
He played just four more games for the club, those four games taking place against the bitter backdrop of fan unrest and a power struggle within the club.
It was more than enough for him to accept his time at Carrow Road was at an end, yet with results not going their way and with fans both uncertain of new man (Dave Stringer) at the helm and very much up in arms against chairman Robert Chase, the Canaries were understandably loathe to add to the potpourri of discontent by selling their best player.
That stance eventually led to Bruce declaring that the 2-1 win at Luton on December 5th was his last game for the club and that he now considered himself unavailable for selection.
A few days later Norwich reluctantly accepted Manchester United’s £900,000 bid (the fee, in retrospect, was probably lower than the club might have expected, given that United knew the player wanted out and Norwich, consequently, had very little manoeuvring room) and Bruce was on his way to Old Trafford.
At around the same time that Bruce left the club, Robert Fleck arrived from Rangers for a then club record fee of £580,000. Like Bruce, he had an agreement with Norwich that, over time, if a bigger club showed an interest in signing him Norwich would make him aware of the interest and give him permission to talk to the interested party.
With Fleck swiftly becoming a popular and highly rated player at the highest level as his career with Norwich progressed there was bound to be interest in him, especially after his stand-out performances in the 1988/89 season that saw him end that campaign as the club’s top goal-scorer with 15 goals. I was a season in which Norwich not only finished fourth in Division One but reached the FA Cup semi-finals for the first time since 1959.
Three years later Norwich reached the FA Cup semi-finals again, with a clearly unfit Fleck – who again ended the season as top scorer with 19 goals – struggling to make much of an impression in the disappointing 1-0 defeat to Sunderland, then in Division Two.
He had, by then, reached an agreement with Robert Chase that he would stay at Norwich for the duration of that season providing the club agreed to his wishes for a move the following summer, something that Chase and the Norwich board agreed to do, no doubt mindful that if the Canaries had a good season he might have been tempted to change his mind and sign a new contract with the club in time for the launch of the new Premier League in August 1992.
I met with Fleckie whilst writing my book Fantasy Football and asked him about his eventual exit from the club:
“I would have left the previous year and there was talk of me going to one of four or five different clubs. But I ended up promising Dave Stringer and Robert Chase that I wouldn’t leave, and that I’d stay for one more (1991/92) year. But it was always known, to them, that I’d be leaving at the end of that season. It wasn’t the best of seasons for the club, especially given what they’d achieved before in terms of league finishes. And I didn’t have a particularly good season either.
“People forgot all of the good years I’d previously had with Norwich! But I was always going to leave. I went down to London to talk to Tottenham and Chelsea. I met with Terry Venables at Tottenham first, but I was never going to join them, I only went there and met with him out of courtesy. In my mind, I was always going to join Chelsea.
“They’d asked Norwich about me the previous year – I was on holiday and got a call, ‘Chelsea are after you!’ I then spoke to Robert Chase and he said ‘no’, so I agreed to that one final year. But Chelsea became the club I wanted to join. I went to speak with them that following summer, the day after I’d seen Venables, sat and met with Ken Bates. I knew I wanted to sign for them; it was a case of ‘where do I sign?’ I don’t regret it.”
He also, interestingly, said that reaching the FA Cup Final in 1989 hadn’t necessarily been the best thing to happen to the club at that time.
“The worst thing that happened was getting to the semi-final of the Cup in 1989. Dave (Stringer) was starting to rest players and think about the Cup more, rather than going all out for the league. We spoke about it, it was decided, this is what we were going to do, and some players it was, ‘yes, the FA Cup semi-final, how often do you get that close to Wembley?’ But we could, we should, have gone for it in every game.
“You should have been playing in every game, play, play well, if you don’t, then you’re out, then someone takes your place. I’ve spoken to Bryan and Dale Gordon about it, we agree, we should have pushed it in the league that season. We were doing well (holding second place in the table into mid-March) then we played Newcastle at home (the Magpies were nineteenth!), well – Mirandinha scored and we lost, 2-1. After that it was ‘never mind, we’re still in the Cup’ and we seemed to give up on the league – plus I missed out on that first semi-final, indeed, I nearly missed the second one (in 1992).
“Back then though, with a good side and a chance of winning the league, attention turned more to the Cup from about March onwards. So we just focused on that, not the league. A nightmare! Of course, the FA Cup meant more then, certainly to fans. I’d like to think it still does today. I never won the Scottish Cup – won the Skol Cup a couple of times though, the medals are at home in a cupboard somewhere!”
Chelsea, the club that Robert so desperately wanted to join in the summer of 1992 made Norwich an offer of just over £2million for him that July and waited for the formalities to be completed. Both they and Fleck however, were to be disappointed.
Not least because after believing he had come to an agreement with Dave Stringer and Robert Chase the previous summer, Fleck saw the Canaries reject Chelsea’s offer, stating that the player was not for sale. When Chelsea subsequently upped their bid, Norwich again rejected it before quoting Chelsea a fee – one that was probably a little short of £3million – that they knew they would be unwilling or unable to pay.
At this point, the deal looked set to collapse and, much to his annoyance, Fleck found himself included in the Canaries squad for their pre-season games that summer; even taking part in one (see photo on home page) that, as far as Norwich fans were concerned, meant that he must have been in Mike Walker’s plans for the pending season.
Fleck saw it differently however and, after that last ever game in a Norwich shirt, informed Chase, much as Steve Bruce had done a few years earlier that he no longer wished to play for the club and that he wanted, as per their agreement a year earlier, for the move to Chelsea to be agreed so that everyone could move on.
He eventually signed for Chelsea on August 12th 1992, just three days before the start of the new Premier League season, with Mark Robins arriving from Manchester United as a cut-price but initially very successful replacement two days later; the latter going on to score two goals on his debut at Arsenal the very next day.
Two high profile players whose time at Norwich was a little soured by the manner of their eventual departures and the steps they felt they had to take in order to make the moves happen. Yet, in time, both were ultimately forgiven by the majority of the Canary support, especially Fleck of course, who returned for a second spell at Carrow Road in 1995 and still lives near the City.
He’ll always be one of us, despite the circumstances that led to his departure in that now long ago summer of 1992.
Not something that can be said of every player who leaves the club, no matter who they are.